What with the propaganda building up for an attack on Iran I thought it was timely to post a review of a book I did a while ago.
I think the main theories of the book would hold good for what is going on this time as well…
The Seven Deadly Spins – by Mickey Z
“Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit atrocities” – Voltaire
There have been quite a few pseudo-social science books out lately – effectively polemics with footnotes. A book like this, where the material has to be written in such a way as to fit the title, can’t lay claim to the sort of analysis that you (might) find in a social science textbook – despite the extensive referencing. Then again, why should it? The majority of people do not read textbooks. It’s a book and the only qualification should be if it’s a good book and it makes a point or not. This is a good book.
It’s written chronologically but does not begin with a particular date or war and then carry on to the next conflict. The first deadly spin is what we would expect to find official sources saying before or at the beginning of hostilities and the last deadly spin is what happens after the battle – it doesn’t really matter which conflict it is. The main thrust of the book is to illustrate that the same swindles, misrepresentations and downright lies have been used for hundreds of years. The episodic style of news reporting means that dissenting voices can also fall into this trap and would do well to try and avoid it. Napoleon said that it is not necessary to falsify the news, merely to delay to bad news until it no longer matters. If those who object to certain actions or reports are forced into a cycle of action and reaction then the bigger picture gets lost.
Too often wars, events or spins are reported as single issues. What Mickey Z is saying (correctly) is that the same spins are consistently used but given an update or changed to suit wherever the fighting is taking place. He has written this book to illustrate that governments have been crying wolf for years and yet most of us still fall for it.
If events are put in a clearer historical context issues could be better illuminated. As David Barsamian says “What the media do nationally is to create an amnesiac-like feeling – there’s no context for actions, there’s no background; there’s no history. Things just happen”.
Of all the criticisms of the mainstream media’s reporting of Iraq one of the most consistent complaints was the lack of background and context in the reports (e.g. who put Saddam in power, gave him weapons etc etc). The resources of the major media allow them to put forth viewpoints pervasively and persuasively. Objectors are then forced into reaction on minor issues. There is not always time to put things into a larger context. If the dissenters win on a particular issue then the next spin is always prepared and ready to go. First it was WMD’s and that was exposed so then it moved to WMD programmes, that didn’t work so then it was to remove Saddam and so on.
Mickey Z has put context and background into the spin surrounding these wars. In Iraq ‘Bad intelligence’ is the excuse after the fact. Compare this to the ‘bomber gap’ under Eisenhower – subsequently it was discovered that the gap was heavily in favour of the US. The excuse given a few years later was bad intelligence. A few years on and it was the missile gap under Kennedy. Roughly the same ‘problem’, exactly the same excuse. The Gulf of Tonkin incident was subsequently revealed to have rested on ‘bad intelligence’. If we analyse a single piece of spin, counter-spin or commentary about Iraq or any other war we only see one lie or misrepresentation and then the reaction to it (if we are looking).
Here are four lines from various journalists and officials that are quoted in the book. I have removed names, dates and places and it becomes almost impossible to tell which war is being discussed.
- The story of the crucial role of US and European business in saving and establishing the ——- dictatorship in ——- has remained relatively unknown to the general public in spite of the voluminous documentation.
- Behind the marines came legions of US businesses, ready not only to sell their goods but also [..]drill oil wells, and stake out mining claims.
- Our soldiers here and there resort to terrible measures with the natives. Captains and lieutenants are sometimes judges, sheriffs and executioners. ‘I don’t want any more prisoners sent into ——–’ was the verbal order [..] three months ago. It is now the custom to avenge the death of an American soldier by burning to the ground all the houses, and killing right and left the natives who are only suspects.
- The United States wished things to turn out as they did, and I worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.
Although I have picked some of these so as to be deliberately misleading it may come as a surprise that number one is referring to “establishing the Leninist dictatorship in Russia”. Two is referring to a range of conflicts in Latin America, three is about the Philippines (Manila is the missing word) and four, although it could be a look into the future when/if John Bolton gets the UN job, is referring to the massacres in East Timor.
For someone who has studied the propaganda system this book will not provide many massive new insights but it will provide some interesting examples, after all, there are so many around that one cannot possibly know them all. One such is the attempt to discredit Indonesian President Sukarno (not to be confused with General Suharto) by making a realistic mask with his features and hiring a porn actor to play him fooling around with a supposed Soviet mistress. Although this never got past the planning stage it is illustrative of the sort of full on media assault that tends to run concurrently with military and/or covert operations: there would be no point in making such a film if you didn’t already know you had a compliant media ready to publicise the propaganda and take your side.
It’s a good introduction for people who do not know too much about these issues and it’s a good refresher course with some funny bits for those who think they do. I like the idea of arguing back not on the supposed morality or otherwise of any given operation but by simply saying “they have said this before and this is what really happened”. This may be worth bearing in mind if Scott Ritter’s assertions that something is going to happen in Iran soon are correct. This is Mickey Z’s fifth book and I am going to have a look at the others.